How Sriram Balaji went from Journeyman to 2024 Olympics

Indian tennis player Sriram Balaji may not have had a glittering career but that could change with his call-up to the 2024 Olympics.

How Sriram Balaji went from Journeyman to 2024 Olympics f

"Fortune favours the brave, I guess."

In May 2024, Indian tennis player Sriram Balaji arrived in Paris not knowing if he was playing the French Open.

The weather meant there were enough withdrawals in the doubles tournament for Balaji, alongside Mexican partner Miguel Reyes-Varela, to make it into the main draw.

They exited the French Open in the third round – Balaji’s best-ever finish at a Major.

He will also return to Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

Balaji has been picked by Rohan Bopanna to partner him in the men’s doubles, ousting the higher-ranked Yuki Bhambri to make it to his first Games.

It might be due to specific strengths of Balaji’s game or the match he played against Bopanna in the French Open third round.

It might have even been a premeditated decision.

Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Balaji’s unexpected participation at the French Open paid off extraordinarily.

A Risk That Paid Off

How Sriram Balaji went from Journeyman to 2024 Olympics

Sriram Balaji explained: “When I got there, we were sixth out (as alternates) so I was not sure we’ll get into the draw.

“And as soon as we got into the draw, it was like a bonus for us. We didn’t have anything to lose.

“We were just playing free and just focusing on every point by point and then it worked actually.”

Many tennis players outside of the very elite often go through the dilemma of travelling to Grand Slams despite being uncertain they will even play.

The financial burdens can be high for very little return.

However, Balaji did not mind the uncertainty because being able to experience the Grand Slam atmosphere was enough.

He admitted: “It’s not easy. The cuts have been so high and there are a lot of single players too so making the draw at the Majors has been tough. Anything could happen.

“If we don’t get in, then I was ready for it.

“I was okay to miss one week of playing challenges or just sit there in a slam, you know, where also you get to practice with very good players.

“There’s no ‘faith’ or anything, but that’s the risk you’re supposed to take.

“If it works, it works.

“I got into the draw and was happy and I think I made maximum use of it… Fortune favours the brave, I guess.”

His Big Break

How Sriram Balaji went from Journeyman to 2024 Olympics 2

Now aged 34, Sriram Balaji had some promise as a junior.

However, his career tailed off due to injuries and the tough transition to the pro circuit.

Even as he accepted his limitations and prioritised doubles, his parents continued to provide as much support as they could.

Balaji’s career may seem like the case of a typical tennis journeyman.

But his impressive run at the French Open and subsequent Olympics call-up has renewed faith.

Balaji’s third-round match against Bopanna highlighted the former’s strengths on clay.

Although Bopanna will claim that did not impact his decision, it is hard to think it did not have any impact.

Balaji revealed: “No, no, no, it wasn’t just the match.

“He also told me, one or two weeks before, he hinted that I’m one of the potential partners, me or Yuki.”

According to Balaji, it was his results on clay at Challenger events and his consistency that led to him being selected for the Olympics.

He went on to explain that playing styles may have also been a factor.

Speaking about his upcoming partnership with Bopanna, Balaji said:

“Both of us have big serves, so hopefully we make the maximum use of it. And then Bops has big returns also, an overall big game.

“So if one or two returns crack, and if we can break them, and keep holding our serves, the match can turn.”

Bopanna’s big serves were visible at Roland Garros, the same venue set to host the Olympics.

Due to his limited movement, Bopanna prefers very short rallies.

But throughout their matches in Paris, his partner Matthew Ebden struggled to hold serve and let rallies roll long enough for them to be outside of Bopanna’s comfort zone.

That will be an area where Bopanna and Balaji may have an edge at the Games.

Sriram Balaji’s career has never seen the highs compared to Bopanna.

But right now, he is enjoying a career-high doubles ranking of 67 and making main draws of big tournaments.

May and June 2024 have been the most significant months of his career but the Olympics hold the potential to change his life.

Lead Editor Dhiren is our news and content editor who loves all things football. He also has a passion for gaming and watching films. His motto is to "Live life one day at a time".



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